2 books helped keep murder in public eye
By Ryan Jockers - Greenwich Time
Their books came out within weeks of one another. One told the story of an unsolved murder's lingering effect on the author's hometown. The other said Kennedy nephew Michael Skakel was the probable killer.
Not by coincidence was a grand jury appointed in June 1998 to investigate the 1975 killing of 15-year-old Belle Haven teenager Martha Moxley shortly after both books were published.
Eighteen months later, the grand jury provided enough evidence for state prosecutors to arrest Skakel, who surrendered last week on a charge of murder, but has claimed his innocence through his attorney, Michael Sherman of Stamford.
For the authors of the two nonfiction books written about the murder, Skakel's arrest brought a sense of satisfaction and a torrent of media attention, and apparently has renewed interest in their books, according to local book dealers and librarians.
Timothy Dumas, 38, a graduate of Greenwich High School and a former reporter for a now-defunct weekly newspaper in town, had his book, "Greentown: Murder and Mystery in Greenwich, America's Wealthiest Community," published in April 1998.
Weeks later, Donald Browne, the state prosecutor who had long-headed the Moxley probe but failed to appoint a grand jury, unexpectedly quit, citing "a potential conflict" after Dumas quoted unnamed journalists who questioned whether Browne could have been "paid off."
Yesterday, Dumas said, "If I had any role in raising people's consciousness about the case and helping to get rid of Don Browne, while inadvertently, I can take some satisfaction in that."
On May 13, a month after Browne's resignation, "Murder in Greenwich: Who Killed Martha Moxley?" was published. Written by Mark Fuhrman , the former Los Angeles detective who gained notoriety after being branded a racist in the O.J. Simpson trial, the book said Skakel, now 39, was Moxley's probable killer. A month later, the grand jury was appointed.
The books renewed interest in the long-dormant case, and now an arrest in the case is renewing interest in the books.
Sheila Daley, co-owner of Barrett Bookstore, an independent store in Darien, said she is sold out of Moxley nonfiction books, and distributors don't have books with which to resupply her store.
"It sort of happened simultaneously; the story broke and (the customers) came into the store," Daley said. "I guess they were aware of (the books) and they wanted to know more about what had been said in the past."
Susan Ferris, public information officer at Greenwich Library, said renewed interest in the Moxley books was evident at the library as well.
In separate interviews with Greenwich Time yesterday, the two authors spoke about their reasons for writing about the murder, the facts they uncovered along the way, and what they believe will happen now that an arrest has been made in the 24-year-old case.
Concerning the future, Fuhrman is certain Skakel will serve time in jail. Dumas is not as sure.
"Why would someone confess and put himself at the crime scene?" said Fuhrman, referring to Skakel's alleged admissions about the murder at Elan School in Poland Spring, Maine, and his altered alibi for the night Moxley was killed - Oct. 30, 1975. A jury would convict Skakel, Fuhrman said.
Dumas, whose book focused more on Skakel's older brother Thomas, then 17, as the suspect, said he did not want to presume Michael Skakel guilty beyond a reasonable doubt, the threshold of guilt a jury must find to justify a conviction.
"Knowing what I know, if I were sitting on that jury today, I could not convict him," Dumas said. "But, of course, I'm not privy to what went on in the grand jury."
Unlike Fuhrman's investigative account of the case, Dumas, who was 14 when Moxley was killed, explored the effect the murder of the young and popular blond girl had beyond the gated community of Belle Haven.
"In those days in Greenwich, safety was not an issue to be considered; murder and mayhem were things that happened someplace else," Dumas said. "And when it happened in Greenwich it taught us that it does not matter where you live; you are not immune to the problems of humanity."
Dumas said the murder hung over with him, and he began to ponder writing a book about the case while a reporter for Greenwich News, which ceased publication in 1996. While pouring over the police report on the case, Dumas said he saw an interesting social story that had not yet become a subject for a nonfiction book. Dominick Dunne's 1993 book, "A Season in Purgatory," was a fictional account of the Moxley murder.
His first step toward writing the book, like Fuhrman's, was contacting the victim's mother, Dorthy Moxley, a woman whom both men said they admire greatly. Both asked Moxley for permission to write about her daughter, and in both instances she granted it readily.
Investigators and journalists who have covered the case have said that if not for Moxley's persistence in keeping the story of her murdered daughter's death in the news, it would have faded into obscurity.
During his research, Dumas attempted to contact Michael Skakel and his father, Ruston Skakel Sr., both of whom did not want to speak with the author. Dumas said he had a 10-minute conversation with Thomas Skakel on his front lawn in Stockbridge, Mass., but that he did not say anything that Dumas had not yet heard.
"He seemed weighed down by sadness by the whole thing," Dumas recalled.
The most revealing interview Dumas said he conducted during his research was with Sheila McGuire, the Moxley friend who found her body under a tree on the Moxley estate. Dumas said he asked McGuire one question, turned on his tape recorder and watched her fall into a trance, retelling her experience.
"It was almost as though she was disembodied," he said.
Dumas was pushed by his publisher, New York-based Arcade Publishing, to finish his book before Fuhrman's. Dumas said he spent 19 hours a day writing, in long hand on legal pad paper, in the weeks leading up to the book's completion. He said he regrets not having enough time to chase down every lead he received in the story.
"I keep wondering," he said, "what sort of book I could have had if I had more time."
Fuhrman, whose prose more closely resembles detective work, said in an interview from his home in Sandpoint, Idaho, that he only needed a few months to uncover the clues he needed to name his suspect, Michael Skakel, who had not been focused on as a suspect until 20 years after the murder.
The impetus for Fuhrman's book was a report made by the Sutton Associates, the private investigative firm the Skakels hired in 1992 to gather evidence to prove both Michael and Thomas were innocent. The report, however, revealed that both brothers had changed their stories about their movements the night of Moxley's murder. Until then, Michael Skakel's alibi had been that he was at a cousin's house until 11:20 p.m., long after police thought Moxley had been killed.
Fuhrman received a copy of the Sutton Associates report from Dunne, who was covering the O.J. Simpson trial. Fuhrman said the Skakels' plan in hiring the firm had "backfired with the biggest gun known to mankind."
After his book was published, Fuhrman received tough criticism from some in the Greenwich Police Department, who he said failed to conduct an appropriate homicide investigation. Yesterday, he said he simply stated the facts, and was ecstatic with last week's events.
"I'm not standing alone anymore," he said.
Fuhrman said Skakel's alleged admissions at Elan are strong enough to convict him and that he would need to take the stand to disprove those allegations. But a defense attorney would never put a murder suspect on the stand, he said.
Dumas, a freelance writer who said he is working on another piece about the Moxley case, said some of the events that transpired the night Martha Moxley was killed will most likely remain a mystery.
"We might get an idea of who killed Martha, but I don't think we'll ever know what happened that night," he said.